Trusting God in Troubled Times 3 – 2 Corinthians 4

This is the third message in the series “Trusting God in Troubled Times”

Here are my notes, if you would prefer to read.

Introduction

Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

The two go together. We get tripped up when the two get separated. Life is either hopeless (we think we will just have trouble) or it is disappointing (because we think we should always be overcoming and successful and we’re not).

In 2 Corinthians 4, the two come together – there is great trouble (v8-10) alongside great confidence. There is also great eternal eternal hope (v17-18). Trouble, confidence and hope are all linked. Trouble is not some random, terrible thing that we just have to endure; trouble is part of the purposes of God, trouble is something through which the Lord puts His strength into us, and trouble is something through which the Lord prepares us for an eternal weight of glory. That is the truth about trouble.

I) The wonder of the gospel (v1-6)

Trouble needs to be seen in the context of what God has done now, in time, in our lives. However great our troubles are, they are nothing compared to what God has done.

Here, Paul is defending his gospel preaching against the accusation that he and the message are weak (see also 10:1-2). Paul, like us, was living in a time when there were all kinds of ideas being passed around and some of those ideas – wrong ideas – were coming into the church.

For we are not strong in ourselves; it is the message that is strong, and the Lord Himself, who saves us and preserves us, who is strong.

Notice:

  • v1: The ministry of the gospel is so wonderful, Paul says, “we do not lose heart”. He is going to say a lot in this chapter, and indeed the whole letter, about trouble, but he does not lose heart because the gospel is so utterly amazing.
  • v2: The gospel is so amazing that it doesn’t need to be changed in any way (“we refuse to… tamper with God’s word”). Even in the middle of trouble, we don’t need to change the message, we need to run to the Lord who has given us Himself.
  • v3-4: Although the gospel is rejected, the problem lies in the heart of the hearers, not in the message.
  • v5: It is a message that eclipses the messenger. As we listen to different preachers, let’s be sure that the preaching isn’t about the messenger, but that the message of Jesus rings loud and clear.
  • v6: The gospel has brought light into the darkness of our hearts and transformed us. But not just light – the light of knowing the glory of God. If you are a Chrstian, you know God, you have seen something of His glory. You have seen His mighty justice satisfied in Christ, you have received His mighty love. You have been given His mighty Spirit. You are made alive through His mighty power. You are kept by His mighty hand.

It is so important to go back to the gospel. When we are going through trouble, the enemy uses the trouble (as does our flesh and the world) to challenge us about God’s love and commitment to us. We wonder why God is letting us go through this. We need to remember what He has done. When we look at His work in the gospel, we do not lose heart.

II) The weakness of the vessels (v7)

“But”: in contrast to the great glory of the gospel, the people who carry the message are jars of clay. Commonplace and weak. Easily broken. Temporary. Reminds us that we are made from the dust of the earth (clay). Our lives depend on the Great Potter – the Lord God Almighty who made us and gave us life.

We see this weakness and frailty even more these days. Our great human strength is being laid low by something so small.

But the point is not simply the weakness; the point is the treasure. The treasure is seen because of the insignificance and weakness of the container. Trouble that would normally crush people is an opportunity for the treasure to shine. When we’re doing well and all is in order in our lives, the treasure of the gospel can be hidden behind our earthly success and togetherness. But, when trouble comes, and our earthly strength fails, the treasure shines out more clearly than ever.

III) The intensity of the battle (v8-12)

It is very real and it takes its toll upon us.

v8: “afflicted in every way.” NIV/NKJV: “hard pressed on every side.” This conveys the intensity of the pressure that Paul is under. The language reflects where many of us are – we are hard-pressed. Pressure from outward circumstances seems to be crushing us and it is coming from all around. There is sickness, there is concern about work and income and family and friends.

BUT: “not crushed” – not hopelessly surrounded…. It’s almost like a contradiction. There is pressure from outside, but we are not hopelessly surrounded because there is the inward strength of the Spirit of God.

“Perplexed” – sense of being “without a way”. Don’t know where to turn. There are times in life when we don’t know what the answer is. What do we do?

BUT: “not in despair” – This is the same word as “perplexed” but is a more intensive form of the word. We are “without a way” but we are not “completely without a way.” It is a play on words. We might not know A way out but we know THE way, the truth and the life. We may be filled with uncertainty, but we know the ONE who is certain.

v9: “Persecuted” – driven away, pursued, in the sense of being pursued because of being a believer. This is the experience of many believers today.

But: “Not forsaken.” Not abandoned by God. This is the promise of Hebrews 13:5. This is what happened to Jesus on our behalf. He WAS forsaken, that we might never be. We might feel forsaken, but the truth about trouble is that we never are forsaken.

“Struck down” – to be hit with sufficient force so as to be knocked down. Life can feel like that. We feel knocked over by something physically, spiritually, emotionally.

BUT: not “destroyed”, in the sense of perishing utterly. Even if our bodies suffer and even if we perish physically, we will not perish. We may be knocked over. We may even die, but we will not be lost.

v10-12: There is purpose in this. The suffering is showing his relationship to Jesus. Jesus said, “take up your cross and follow me.” As we suffer and as we are different from those around us. so we show the reality of Christ’s power – and that serves to advance the gospel (v12). This is what happens in countries where believers are persecuted, but this can be true of us: the way Christ is seen in your life can bring life to those who see. Believers can be encouraged and unbelievers can be saved – because they see that Jesus is real.

IV) The outcome of the battle (v13-18)

Persevering faith now. In v13, Paul quotes from Psalm 116:10, from the Greek translation. Psalm 116 is about deliverance through trial. The faith that kept the psalmist enabled him to speak. Paul is saying – it is the same. The same faith enables me to speak out. As you persevere through trial, faith is built, so you are able to speak – you speak praise TO God and you proclaim truth ABOUT Him and His work is saving us.

Ultimate and final deliverance through the resurrection of Jesus (v14). Even though we suffer and even die here, our hope is unchanged. On that final day, the believer will be raised with Christ. When we die, we go immediately into the presence of the Lord, and when the resurrection comes, we receive new glorified resurrection bodies that will be eternal, and glorious, fitted and ready for the immediate presence of the Lord.

The outcome is secure. Notice (14), he says “knowing that” – not “perhaps” or “maybe” but solid and certain.

Bringing glory to God (v15). Following on from his comments in v11-12, Paul says again that his suffering benefits them and it brings God glory. We have our ideas about how God can be glorified – maybe a great worship service. But here Paul is saying, all of this trouble works for the glory of God. If we are saying to the Lord, “In my life, Lord, be glorified,” doesn’t He get to choose how He is going to be glorified in your life? Doesn’t He know the best way to glorify His name and to bring blessing through your life to others?

We do not lose heart (v16). Even though all this is affecting Paul’s earthly body, it is not destroying him inwardly, because the Holy Spirit is renewing him and preparing him. Why?

There is reward coming (v17). Many have debated whether this means that our reward is greater in heaven depending on the degree to which we endure suffering on earth. There is no time in this message to explore that issue – I look forward to revisiting it when we are all together again. However, I need to say something about the connection – Romans 8:22-23. We groan inwardly. The trials of life are weaning us off loving the things of this world and are preparing us for something that is infinitely better. As we go through these trials, our longing for the final destiny intensifies.

The glory will be overwhelming (v17) – “an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison”. It is a picture of old-fashioned scales where produce on one side is measured by weights on the other side until the two sides balance. Using this image of two things in balance, he is saying this: the afflictions/the suffering (which are for a brief moment compared to eternity), although they seem so heavy and overwhelming now, will be totally outweighed by the glory that we will receive. Even more – just one moment of eternity will outweigh all the troubles of this earth. And you haven’t got just one moment – you have eternity.

So, we need to get our focus right (v18) – we won’t lose heart when our vision is focused correctly. As we look to the unseen, the eternal, the things that will remain forever. If our focus is on earthly things, the things that trouble us, the things that we don’t want to lose, we will lose heart. But if our focus is on what we can never lose, what will last forever, then we will press on, we will rest in His sovereign care, we will trust Him to glorify His name in whatever trials we have. We will be confident that we will not be crushed, hemmed in, forsaken or destroyed. And we will be comforted: though trouble’s hard, it’s only momentary.

Conclusion

The truth about trouble: The battle is very real – and yet it is not for our ultimate defeat. It may defeat your body, it may overwhelm your mind and emotions, but it will never take you out of the Lord’s hands, it will never harm you eternally. On the contrary, it is a pathway to the richest of glory and blessing for all eternity.

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33)


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